Furiiru people

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The Fuliiru people (Singular: Mufuliru, plural: Bafuliru) are a Bantu ethnic group, a sub-group of the Kivu. [1] [2] [3]


Fuliiru grandmother and her granddaughter, Lemera, South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Fuliiru Grandmother and her Daughter, Lemera, Sud-Kivu.jpg
Fuliiru grandmother and her granddaughter, Lemera, South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Fuliiru mainly inhabit the east-central highlands of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire), in the South Kivu Province south of Lake Kivu and north and northwest of Uvira, along the Ruzizi Plain near the border with Rwanda and Burundi, where some Fuliiru also live. [4] [3] [5] According to the 2009 census, their population estimate exceeded 250,000, [1] while a 1999 estimate of Kifuliiru-language speakers placed the number at 300,000. [3] The Fuliiru are renowned for their skilled craftsmanship, particularly in the production of pottery and basketry. Their handcrafted baskets are highly coveted for their intricate designs and exceptional quality, and are frequently employed for storage, decoration, and even as musical instruments. [6]

The Fuliiru, like many other communities in the eastern part of the DRC, face ongoing challenges related to access to basic needs such as clean water, healthcare, and education. Furthermore, they also face issues related to land disputes, political marginalization, and human rights abuses. The Fuliiru women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence amplified by the region's persistent armed conflicts, which have resulted in the prevalence of a pervasive culture of impunity. [7] [8] [9] [10]


During colonial era, the nomenclature used to identify the Bafuliiru caused perplexity among several historians and anthropologists. In the Belgian Congo, the Bafuliiru were often termed as "Bafulero" and inhabited a region commonly recognized as "Bufuliro" or "Bufulero" by numerous Belgian colonial administrators, anthropologists, and historians. However, the term for the ethnic group is "Bafuliiru" or "Bafuliru," with "Mfuliru" serving as a term to describe an individual belonging to this community. [11] [12] [13] [14] [15]

Clans of the Bafuliru

The Bafuliiru are not homogeneous people. Rather, it is an amalgamation of people of diverse origins, a kind of multicultural state, with six distinct origins.

To be considered a Mufuliru (singular for Bafuliru), one must be born into one of the thirty-eight founding families (clans) of the ethnic group.

The Fuliiru people are made up of about 38 clans [16] which are:

  1. Badaka: The Badaka clan is a smaller or less well-known clan within the Bafuliiru Chiefdom, and is known for their expertise in metalworking and blacksmithing. They have played a significant role in the production of tools and weapons for use by other clans in the region.
  2. Balabwe
  3. Badjoga: The Badjoga clan is a subgroup of the Bahavu ethnic group and is known for their expertise in fishing and hunting. They are believed to have migrated to the Uvira Territory from the Mwenga Territory, and have played a significant role in the region's economy and culture.
  4. Bahatu
  5. Bahamba: The Bahamba clan is a significant clan in the Fuliiru ethnic group. They are traditionally associated with the Bafuliiru Chiefdom and played an important role in the political and social history of the area. The Bahamba are known for their lineage from a royal family and have taken over the leadership of the Bafuliiru Chiefdom from the Batumba clan at some point in history. While they may have had a historical connection to the royal court, they have also had a presence in other aspects of society, including agriculture, trade, and other economic activities. They are also skilled at weaving and pottery-making, and have a rich cultural heritage that includes music, dance, and storytelling. Today, the Bahamba clan is an important part of the Bafuliiru Chiefdom, and many members of the clan hold positions of leadership and influence in local government and community organizations.
  6. Bahange
  7. Bahembwe
  8. Bahofwa
  9. Bahundja
  10. Bahungu: The Bahungu clan, also known as Bazige, are believed to be descendants of Hutu people who originated from Burundi. They have a rich cultural heritage that has been passed down through generations, and their history is intertwined with the Bafuliiru Chiefdom.
  11. Baiga
  12. Bajojo
  13. Bakame
  14. Bakukulugu
  15. Bakuvi
  16. Balambo: The Balambo clan is a prominent clan within the Bafuliiru Chiefdom and is also considered a major clan within the Bavira ethnic group. Their history is deeply rooted in the region, and they have played a significant role in shaping the social and political landscape of the area for centuries.
  17. Balemera: The Balemera clan is one of the prominent clans within the Fuliiru ethnic group. They are traditionally associated with the Bufuliru Chiefdom. Along with the Batumba clan, they have been recognized as one of the leading clans within the chiefdom. They are known for their expertise in trade and commerce, and have played a significant role in the economic development of the region.
  18. Balizi: The Balizi clan is one of the smaller clans within the Bafuliiru Chiefdom. They are believed to have migrated to the area from present-day Bunyoro in Uganda several centuries ago. They are primarily farmers, and they are known for their cultivation of crops such as beans, maize, and cassava. They are also skilled at weaving and pottery-making, and have a rich cultural heritage that includes traditional dances and music. Although the Balizi clan is relatively small, they have contributed significantly to the cultural and economic life of the Bafuliiru Chiefdom. Many members of the clan are involved in local government and community organizations, and they are respected for their contributions to the community.
  19. Bamioni
  20. Banakatanda: The Banyakatanda clan is a matriarchal clan, with women traditionally holding positions of power and influence within the clan. They are known for their expertise in midwifery and for their role in selecting the next king or queen of the Bafuliiru Chiefdom. Each powerful clan in the Chiefdom was assigned a role on the royal court, and the Banyakatanda women were appointed as kingmakers. Since a king could be born to any of the king’s wives, these women served as midwives to the queens, tasked with determining whether a newborn was fit to succeed to the throne. Moreover, upon the death of the reigning monarch, only members of these clans could confirm and announce the passing and ensure the rightful successor ascended to the throne.
  21. Banakyoyo
  22. Banamubamba
  23. Banamuganga
  24. Basamba
  25. Bashagakibone
  26. Bashimbi: The Bashimbi clan is a group of skilled farmers, rainmakers, and high-level “premiers” within the Bafuliiru Chiefdom. They are known for their expertise in producing honey, cereals, coffee, and raising livestock, including sheep, cattle, and poultry. The Bashimbi are centered around their traditional village of Kalundu, located near the Mizulo hamlet in Uvira territory. The clan's founding father, Kashambi, was renowned as the master-maker of the "bimole" or torch used for fisheries in Lake Tanganyika. The Bashimbi made a pact with the Bafuliru clan, who shared a sonorous resemblance in the names of their clans. According to several oral accounts and ethnological studies of the Fuliiru people, these clans recognized each other as real brothers at a particular time in history. The Bafuliiru eventually absorbed the more cunning members of the Bashimbi clan. The name "Kashambi" is given to the progeny of the Bashimbi's founding father, who arrived with his adherents and stripped other people's goods, establishing his dominance through his velocity and colossal throng.
  27. Bashale
  28. Bashamwa
  29. Bashashu
  30. Basizi: The Basizi clan is a subgroup of the Bahavu ethnic group and is known for their role in the region's religious and spiritual practices. They have played a significant role in the establishment of churches and other religious institutions in the region and have helped to preserve the local customs and traditions associated with these practices.
  31. Basozo: The Basozo clan originally came from Bugarama in Rwanda; mixed in with the wider Fuliiru population to the point where their distinct identity has become almost extinguished. Although the clan continues to exist, their unique cultural heritage and practices have been largely assimilated into the surrounding Fuliiru communities.
  32. Bashago
  33. Batere
  34. Batoké
  35. Batumba: The Batumba clan is a prominent royal lineage clan among both the Bavira and Bafuliiru people. They have a long and rich history, and are traditionally associated with the Bafuliiru Chiefdom, which they have helped to lead alongside the Balemera clan. The Batumba are known for their role as royal lineage and have been instrumental in shaping the cultural, political, and social landscape of the region. The Mutumba is the traditional ruler of the Batumba, and is considered to be the most respected member of the clan. The Mutumba is responsible for overseeing the affairs of the Batumba people and for maintaining the customs and traditions of the clan. In some regions, the Mutumba may hold a position of authority or influence beyond the Batumba community and may be recognized as a regional leader.
  36. Bavunye
  37. Bavurati
  38. Bazilangwe

Bafuliru Chiefdom

The new Mwami (king) of the Bafuliru or the Fuliiru ethnic group, Ndare III Simba Kalingishi Adams, enthroned on May 2018 in Lemera, including the New Mwami of Rain, knowns as Kabongwe Ndungu Mangwa Espoir, South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Ndare III Simba Kalingishi Adams.jpg
The new Mwami (king) of the Bafuliru or the Fuliiru ethnic group, Ndare III Simba Kalingishi Adams, enthroned on May 2018 in Lemera, including the New Mwami of Rain, knowns as Kabongwe Ndungu Mangwa Espoir, South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the onset of Belgian colonization, the establishment of chieftaincies was the primary method of governance, reflecting the decentralized nature of the colonial policy. These chieftaincies were established with due respect to the customs and traditions of each area, particularly based on three principal criteria defined and established by the Belgian colonial administration as essential conditions for the establishment of any chieftaincy. This was done to prevent lawlessness and to avoid violating the ancestral realities that had existed for millennia. Belgian colonial administration's criteria for establishing chieftaincies varied based on the region and the ethnic group in question. The establishment of chieftaincies was often accompanied by the appointment of a local chief (chefs de groupement) or a traditional ruler who was then tasked with maintaining law and order in the area, as well as ensuring the well-being of the local population. However, the establishment of chieftains was controversial, particularly in areas where multiple ethnic groups co-exist. There were instances where the colonial administration had to navigate complex power dynamics and determine which ethnic group or faction should hold the position of chief. This led to tensions between different ethnic groups and, in some cases, even armed conflict. Each ethnic group, however small, was assigned a chiefdom or a sector, if not, a grouping (groupement). The administrative territories were thus constituted within the limits of the chiefdom. The aim was to regroup "ethnic units" in their own geographical entities, but this led to such fragmentation that Orientale Province, which included the present-day Haut-Congo Province and the former Kivu, comprised up to 2,500 chiefdoms and groups. This approach by the Belgian colonial administration was based on the principle of indirect rule, which aimed to maintain control over the local population through traditional rulers. This system was viewed as a means of preserving the existing social and political structures of the colonized societies while ensuring their loyalty to the colonial authorities. However, this approach had some negative consequences. The proliferation of chiefdoms and groups created administrative difficulties for the colonial administration, making it challenging to maintain control over such a vast and diverse territory. Additionally, the creation of numerous chiefdoms and groups resulted in the fragmentation of ethnic groups, further exacerbating existing inter-ethnic tensions and conflicts. [17] [18] [19]

The Bembe and the Buyu people were both grouped in the Fizi Territory, which was further subdivided by the colonial administration into five sectors, namely Itombwe, Lulenge, Mutambala, Ndandja, and Tangani’a. The Bafuliiru community-chiefdom, on the other hand, borders Rwanda and Burundi through the Ruzizi Plain In the Uvira Territory. The sandy soil of the plain is suitable for growing crops such as groundnuts and cotton, with Luvungi, Lubarika, and Luberizi being particularly noteworthy areas for such cultivation.

A view of the Mitumba Mountains pointing to the nearby villages. The mountains are encircled with villages and trees. Mitumba Mountains.jpg
A view of the Mitumba Mountains pointing to the nearby villages. The mountains are encircled with villages and trees.

The Fuliiru collectivity is situated in two distinct types of plateaus: the Middle Plateau and the High Plateau. The Middle Plateau spans between Luvungi and Mulenge, with the altitude gradually increasing from 100 m to 1800 meters. This plateau comprises several villages, including Namutiri, Ndolera, Bulaga, Langala, Bushokw, Bushuju, Butole, Lemera, Bwesho, Katala, Mulenge, and others. It is also is a favorable environment for growing cassava, coffee, banana, beans and maize. The High Plateau, on the other hand, form a watershed between the tributaries of the Ulindi and the Elila rivers, as well as the torrents that flow into the Ruzizi River and Lake Tanganyika. The High Plateaus are characterized by a rugged landscape with steep slopes and elevations ranging from 1800 to 2700 meters. The main villages located on the High Plateaus include Kagongo, Kishusha, Mulobela, and Kashekezi. These villages are known for their cool climate and are suitable for the cultivation of crops such as Irish potatoes and beans. This plateau is mostly used for grazing cattle and is less populated compared to the Middle Plateau. [20] [21]

Bafuliiru groupements (groupings)

Bafuliiru Chiefdom is subdivided in groupements governed by customary chiefs (chefs de groupement) who are appointed by the paramount chief. Groupements are subdivided in localités (localities or villages) which are also ruled by customary chiefs. The “chefferie” (chiefdom) of Bafuliru, the second and last chefferie in the Uvira Territory, is composed of five groupements: Runingu, Itara, Lemera, Muhungu and Kigoma. Each groupements are composed of a certain number of villages. [22]

The groupement/locality of Muhungu consists of the following villages:

The groupement/locality of Kigoma consists of the following villages:

The groupement/locality of Runingu consists of the following villages:

The groupement/locality of Itara consists of the following villages:

The groupement/locality of Lemera consists of the following villages:



The origin of the Fuliiru people, like that of many ethnic groups in the Great Lakes region of Africa, is complex and multifaceted, shaped by factors such as migration, colonization, and conflict. The Fuliiru are believed to have originated from the Bantu-speaking people who migrated from the West-Central Africa as part of the Bantu Migration to Central, Eastern and Southern Africa. Most, however, are descended from Bantu groups that had settled in Southeast Africa after the initial expansion from Nigeria/Cameroon and settled in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the 16th century. By the mid-1700s, the Bafuliru people had established a significant presence in the region surrounding Lake Tanganyika, specifically in the mountainous hinterland of South Kivu along the Ulindi River. Their migration to this area was likely influenced by a variety of factors, including changes in climate and agricultural patterns, as well as conflicts and social pressures in their previous settlements. [23] [24]

The Fuliiru have a unique history as one of the only highland Bantu groups to have formed a single, relatively small state that was highly centralized. [25] [4] This state was founded by Kahambalingishi, who arrived in the region in the 16th century. [23] According to oral tradition, the center of the Fuliiru people’s migratory dispersion in the middle Lwalaba Basin is located at the mouth of the Ulindi River. Bishikwabo Chubaka, a Shi historian, has written that after migrating from Lwindi around the Ulindi River in the mountainous hinterland, the Fuliiru and Vira people occupied Uvira. This migration and settlement marked a significant chapter in the history of the region, and helped to shape the cultural and political landscape that is still present today. [24]

Eponym and controversies on chiefdom

The genesis of the Bafuliiru Chiefdom preeminent political entity remains a subject of debate, with various hypotheses and conjectures proposed to account for its emergence.

According to Alfred Moeller de Laddersous, a colonial administrator who conducted extensive research on the Bantu communities residing in the eastern parts of the Belgian Congo, noted that the Bahamba dynasty embarked on a journey from the Lwindi directions, ultimately settling in the present-day Uvira Territory. Over time, the Bahamba dynasty changes their eponym from Bahamba (Wahamba) to Bafuliiru as a badge of their new identity. Moeller de Laddersous presents the Bahamba as a clan to which the founder of the customary "Bafuliro" Chiefdom belongs. [26] René Loons, a Belgian colonial administrator, classified the "Bafuliru" as a region rather than an ethnic group and identified four main factions within it: Bahamba, Batumba, Banakatanda, and Balemera. Loons further notes that these four factions were organized into distinct traditional chiefdoms, but that the Bahamba faction dominated the others and held the management of the extended "Bafuliru" customary chiefdom. According to Loons, the Bahamba clan was led by their chief Kikanwe to the present-day Uvira Territory. [23] [27] Kingwengwe Mupe, a Fuliiru historian and political analyst, argues that the Bahamba clan drove out (and possibly dethroned) the Balemera clan to occupy Uvira. According to Mupe's account, the Balemera clan can be traced back as the indigenous people who first inhabited the region. It is believed that the Bafuliiru Chiefdom, which had its stronghold in Lemera, a town situated in close proximity to the towns of Kasheke and Nyambasha, was the very heartland of their ancestral domain. Mupe's assertion thus hints at a deep-rooted history of the land, which speaks of the clan's enduring presence and cultural heritage. Despite this, there is some inconsistency in historical accounts, while some sources uphold the claim that the Bahamba clan played an instrumental role in founding the chiefdom, other narratives indicate that they supplanted the Balemera clan to establish their hegemony and royal lineage in the Bafuliiru Chiefdom. The latter account alludes to a process of usurpation and consolidation of power by the Bahamba clan. The co-existence of these contradictory accounts presents a complex picture of the historical evolution of the Bafuliiru Chiefdom, which demands a careful evaluation of the available sources to arrive at a plausible understanding of its past. [28] [29] [30]

While Loons attributes the chiefdom's founding to Kahambalingishi, a purported descendant of either Kikanwe or Namboko, other historians, such as Bishikwabo Chubaka, offer dissenting opinions. Chubaka postulates that Mulemera, the father and progenitor of the Bahamba dynasty, was the true architect of the chiefdom's rise to power. Chubaka believes that the Bafuliiru Chiefdom owes its inception to Mulemera, the progenitor of the Bahamba dynasty, who Chubaka contends was the true architect of the chiefdom's establishment. Chubaka's account posits that Mulemera played an instrumental role in the region's political development and was responsible for the consolidation of power. Chubaka also challenges the prevailing narratives that ascribe the chiefdom's founding to Kahambalingishi, whose lineage may have been less directly linked to the Bahamba dynasty. According to Chubaka, Kahambalingishi may have been a later ruler who inherited the chiefdom from Mulemera. This perspective is supported by Kingwengwe-Mupe, whose scholarship bolsters Chubaka's theory. Both historians draw on local accounts that lend credence to the idea that the Balemera clan were the original founders of the Bafuliiru Chiefdom. [23] [24] [31] [32]

Barundi and Banyarwanda migration to Bafuliiru territories


In the late nineteenth century, various groups settled on the lands of the Bafuliiru, seeking greener pastures. Led by Chief Ngabwe of the Bazige clan, the Barundi arrived from Burundi and requested land from the Bavira, which they acquired between the Kiliba and Kawezi Rivers in exchange for ivory. As the waves of colonialism swept across the region, it sparked wars of expansion on both sides. The Mwami of the Bafuliiru asserted that certain villages within the Ruzizi Plain were still under his jurisdiction, while the Mwami of the Plain sought to establish his own authority over these same villages. In the absence of a clear resolution, the only viable option was to engage in warfare, a brutal contest of power that would determine which chiefdom would emerge as the dominant force in the region. [33] [34]

After Chief Ngabwe established himself, Chief Kinyoni, a sub-chief of Burundian King Mwezi Gisabo from the Banyakarama Dynasty, established himself with his followers on the right bank of the Ruzizi River. Subsequently, Chief Kinyoni launched a southerly attack on the Bafuliiru Chiefdom. He conquered the villages of Kigoma, Mulenge, Kihanga, and Kalengera in quick succession since the Fuliiru of Mwami Nyamugira I were not yet organized. However, both sides' soldiers were armed with spears, knives, arrows, machetes, and axes. [35] [33] [36] Following his triumph in the southern campaign, Chief Kinyoni launched another offensive towards the north. His military success continued as he and his skilled warrior, Rubisha, overpowered the Fuliiru defenders of Kiringye, Kabwiba, and Kigwena, ultimately claiming these villages as part of his expanding territory. At this juncture, nearly half of the Bafuliiru Chiefdom was under Kinyoni's control. Bwesho was the last obstacle standing in his way, and capturing it would grant him control over the coveted capital of the Bafuliiru Chiefdom, Lemera. However, despite enduring significant territorial losses, the Bafuliiru community refused to capitulate without putting up fierce resistance. Led by the renowned leader Katangaza, a respected and influential figure from Bwesho, they gathered their forces and readied themselves to face the inevitable advance of Rubisha and his army. When Rubisha and his army arrived at Bwesho, they were met with fierce resistance from the Bafuliiru army, resulting in Kinyoni being mortally wounded and killed by a spear, including his son Rubwatara. His troops were then driven out of every village they had taken. However, Kinyoni's troops managed to retreat to Luvungi, where they received support from Belgian colonists, who provided them with much-needed resources and supplies. This assistance allowed Kinyoni's troops to regroup and prepare for another attempt to conquer the Bafuliiru Chiefdom under the guidance of Katangaza. Despite the setback, the Bafuliiru troops pursued the retreating army and eventually expelled them from Kiringye. However, the villages that were captured by Rubisha and his troops remained under the control of the Mwami of the Bafuliiru Chiefdom in the Ruzizi Plain, including those located to the east of the Bukavu-Uvira road extending all the way to Sange. This region is still recognized as part of the Bafuliiru's traditional territory today. [37] [38] [33]


During the period of European penetration, the Banyarwanda, now commonly referred to as "Banyamulenge," emerged as a significant group in the region. The term "Banyarwanda" includes Hutus, Tutsis, and Twa people from Rwanda, who share the same common language and cultural heritage. In traditional Rwandan society, a feudal system existed in which Hutus were expected to leave their land available for Tutsis to graze their cows. This arrangement was enforced through a system of clientelism, where Tutsis loaned their cows to Hutus, who in turn were required to lend their land. Wealth was measured by the number of cows one possessed, and the richest Tutsis had the largest herds. At the top of this social hierarchy was the king, known as the "Mwami," who was believed to possess divine powers and symbolized national unity. The king surrounded himself with Tutsi warlords and Hutu advisers who oversaw the distribution of land. Over time, the Tutsis established a system of serfdom that further marginalized the Hutu people. The Belgian colonial administration formalized and solidified this social system, ultimately leading to its being perceived as an ethnic divide between Hutus and Tutsis. [39] [40]

Between 1935 and 1955, the colonial power of Belgium in the Belgian Congo, which had guardianship over Rwanda and Burundi, officially encouraged and facilitated the immigration of Rwandans to Kivu. The Rwandans who migrated to Kivu during this time were mostly Tutsis, and they were favored by the Belgian administration due to their perceived superiority over the Hutus. [41]

According to René Lemarchand, a French-American political scientist, the ancestors of Banyarwanda were:

"renegades from Rwanda. Having fallen foul of the ruling Niginya dynasty, they moved to the Itombwe area in the late 19th century. Others followed, in search of greener pastures, some from Rwanda, others from Burundi. Although they formed a culturally and linguistically distinct community, their name never appears in colonial records" [42]

Unusually in contacts with the Tutsi pastoralists from Banyarwanda group, the Fuliiru were neither conquered nor assimilated by them, but instead engaged in trade and occasional cattle raiding, leading to a deep and long-lasting social interaction that particularly impacted the Fuliiru people. The Banyarwanda later acquired Mulenge and Upper Sange from the Bafuliiru, and many of them settled in remote areas, including Kalamba, the Ruzizi Plain, and the Mulenge hills, before spreading to other parts of southern Kivu. The Belgian colonial administration, through the Mission d'immigration des Banyarwanda (MIB), facilitated the immigration of Rwandans to other parts of the Belgian Congo. Between 1935 and 1955, tens of thousands of Rwandan families were established in various regions of Congo, including the current Masisi zone, the Bwito community in the Rutshuru zone, the Buzi-Ziralo grouping (groupement) in the Kalehe zone, and Moba in Katanga. Other eastern regions such as Baraka and Marungu were also prepared to welcome the immigrants. This immigration policy was officially supported by the Belgian colonial government, which aimed to promote economic development and expand its control over the region. However, the influx of Rwandans led to tensions and conflicts with the local population, contributing to the ongoing ethnic tensions in the region. [43] [44] [45] [46]

Mining by the Union Miniere du Haut Katanga, 1922 S.A. mining and engineering journal (1891) (14592056547).jpg
Mining by the Union Minière du Haut Katanga, 1922

Another factor that fostered this immigration of Rwandans was the recruitment of labor. Between the 1920s and 1950s, the colonial authorities in Belgian Congo actively recruited labor for large mining companies such as the Union Minière du Haut-Katanga and Kivu, particularly in Kalima and Kamituga. Many of these workers were Rwandan and were hired under contract, but they did not renounce their nationality or property, which remained in Rwanda. This immigration of Rwandans was also facilitated by the establishment of a chiefdom for the Banyarwanda after the arrival of numerous laborers brought by missionaries from neighboring Rwanda. [47] [48] [49]

Monsignor Faustin Ngabu, who was the president of the Episcopate of Congo and the bishop of the diocese of Goma, acknowledged this historical event in his Easter pastoral letter of April 11, 1998 (French: Lettre Pastorale du 11 avril 1998).

In the letter, he stated:

"With us, the main tribes or socio-political communities are called, I quote in alphabetical order: Bahavu, Bahunde, Banande, Banyanga, Barega, Bashi, Batembo. The Banyarwanda (Hutus and Tutsis), at least those who were, those who no longer want this title and those who still identify with this term, will want to understand that, in their case, the notion of “tribe” that they give themselves when they declare themselves Hutu and Tutsi cannot be understood in the same sense as that of the other communities mentioned above. Indeed, unlike that of the Hutus and Tutsis, the Havu, Hunde, Nande, Nyanga and Tembo communities each have their "Mwami" and their "Balu" or "Vakama", who are respectively their heads of state and leading executives in the precolonial context. These communities have their traditional values which are based on their languages, their territories, their customs and their own family, matrimonial, cultural, economic, political and religious organizations. For the case of Hutus and Tutsis, after 23 years already spent in this diocese, I am not able to say the same; how does each of these two Hutu and Tutsi groups constitute a tribe? It is up to them to understand it and convince others of it." [50]

The marginalization of Fuliiru communities

Since the 1960s, the cohabitation between the Banyarwanda and their Congolese neighbors has been plagued by problems, resulting in serious social tensions and violence. The escalation of social tensions and violence has led to lethal conflict situations of a social, cultural, economic, and security nature, with complex consequences. Human rights organizations estimate that the total number of deaths from the conflict is around 70,000 as of 1996. [51]

The conflict in Bafuliiru communities has its roots in the fact that Rwandan refugees who were settled by the Belgian colonial administration and the United Nations in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo did not maintain their given status when they first arrived. Instead, they claimed to be a new ethnic group called “Banyamulenge” (literally 'those who live in Mulenge') through an entirely fabricated ethnogenesis. This new identity allowed them to lay claim to land and resources in the region, leading to clashes with other ethnic groups.

A woman from the Bafuliru community mourns the death of Regina, a 4-year-old displaced girl who died from lack of care, in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp of Bijombo, South Kivu Province. Fuliiru refugee.jpg
A woman from the Bafuliru community mourns the death of Regina, a 4-year-old displaced girl who died from lack of care, in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp of Bijombo, South Kivu Province.

After the Democratic Republic of Congo gained independence in 1960, the Banyarwanda community, both Tutsi and Hutu, attempted to establish recognition of their rights as "indigenous" by claiming that they had two "chefferies" (traditional chiefdoms) that had never been acknowledged by other ethnic groups. The Tutsi argued that they had migrated to the Congo Basin around the same time as their Fuliiru, Vira, Bembe, and Lega counterparts, prior to the establishment of the Congo Free State, and were therefore entitled to the same ethnic rights as other tribes in the country. [52]

In 1976, Faustin Tabazi Rugama, a Munyamulenge writer, attempted to legitimize the notion of a tribe called "Banyamulenge" that supposedly existed prior to the Berlin Conference of 1885. This "historical and scientific" justification was unlikely to be intended to equate the "Banyamulenge" pseudo-tribe with the indigenous Congolese tribes. However, under the pressure of Gisaro Muhoza, a Rwandan university administrator and the creator of the term "Banyamulenge", Rugama used the term in his thesis. [53] According to historians, the Banyamulenge are a population of Rwandan origin who settled in the Kivu region and were not known by this name during the colonial period. Using "Banyamulenge" as an ethnic identity, they demanded Congolese citizenship as well as land belonging to the indigenous Congolese population.

First and Second Congo Wars

Monument of the Katogota massacre Katogota Memoire.jpg
Monument of the Katogota massacre

In the early stages of the First and Second Congo Wars, a large contingent of Banyamulenge traversed into Bafuliiru communities to provide support to the Tutsi members of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDLC). This influx of Banyamulenge played a pivotal role in enabling the AFDLC to seize control of the region from local chiefs and civilians who were uprooted from their ancestral lands against their will. The conflict was marked by brutal violence against the civilian population. On October 6, 1996, Banyamulenge rebels launched an assault on Lemera, a town situated in the north-western region of the Uvira Territory in South Kivu Province, resulting in the loss of several dozen lives. A total of 37 individuals, including two medical personnel, lost their lives in a hospital massacre. The armed assailants also pillaged the Lemera Hospital, the largest hospital in the region, located approximately 85 kilometers north of Uvira. [54] [55] [56]

In October 1998, a large number of people were brutally killed and displaced in Uvira, including the former Mulenge post chief, Ladislas Matalambu, who met his demise on October 1, 1998, at 7:30 p.m. Additionally, Alexis Deyidedi, the former administrative secretary of the Bafuliiru Chiefdom, was assassinated on October 2, 1998, at 11 p.m. The AFDL troops forced many Bafuliiru, Babembe, Warega, and Bavira individuals to flee and take refuge in neighboring countries such as Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, and Mozambique. The displacement caused a ripple effect of the humanitarian crisis, with many facing severe challenges, including inadequate food and water supplies, inadequate medical facilities, and substandard living conditions. [57] [58] [59]

On May 14, 2000, the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD), a rebel group comprising mainly Banyamulenge child soldiers, perpetrated a massacre in the village of Katogota. The victims, numbering 375 in total, were primarily from the Bafuliiru community and were brutally murdered in cold blood. Some were mercilessly gunned down, while others suffered the grisly fate of having their throats slashed, and their bodies were thrown into the Ruzizi River to dispose of the evidence. The rebels also set fire to their homes, leaving many others to burn to death. The horrors of the Katogota massacre caused many to flee their homes, including up to 3,500 Congolese, mainly from the Bafuliiru and Babembe communities, who sought refuge in Burundi on June 10, 2004, to escape ongoing ethnic persecution. [60] [61] [62] [63]

Ongoing violence

The ongoing violence in the Bafuliiru communities has been exacerbated by political instability, resource scarcity, and deep-seated mistrust between the various groups. The situation is further complicated by the involvement of different armed groups, including militias and rebel factions, who compete for control over the region's resources and strategic locations. The proliferation of weapons and the absence of effective governance has allowed these groups to act with impunity, perpetrating horrific acts of violence against civilians and engaging in illicit activities, including the illegal exploitation of mineral resources. The impact of the conflict on the local population has been devastating, with many families displaced from their homes, and their livelihoods destroyed. The absence of adequate humanitarian assistance has only exacerbated the already dire situation, with many facing severe challenges, including food and water insecurity, inadequate medical care, and substandard living conditions. [64] [65] [66] [67]

In June 2014, 35 Fuliiru were killed in an attack on the town of Mutarule. The attack was believed to be ethnically motivated. The massacres were carried out mainly by Barundi and Banyamulenge rebel groups in a determined, planned, systematic and methodical manner, and were inspired by ethnic hatred. [68]

In January 2019, Twigwaneho and Ngumino, a Banyamulenge rebel groups, reportedly torched homes and property belonging to the Bafuliiru in the village of Babengwa. [69]

Between February 2019 and 2020, a large number of Bafuliiru were killed and displaced, leading them to the Bijombo camp in the South Kivu province, east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite efforts to prioritize and act on serious cases in the immediate aftermath of the ethnic violence, there have been few prosecutions and fewer convictions, as well as a near total lack of investigations of those who organized and financed the violence. [70] [71]


The culture of Bafuliiru is diverse and influenced by their history, beliefs, and environment. Bafuliiru have a rich oral tradition that is passed down through storytelling, music, and dance. They also have a strong attachment to their land, which is seen as central to their identity and way of life. Traditionally, Bafuliiru were primarily subsistence agriculturalists, growing crops such as cassava, maize, and beans. Cattle were also important for their milk, meat, and hides. Hunting and gathering also played a role in their diet and way of life.


The Fuliiru speak the Fuliiru language, a Bantu language. The Furiiru are connected to the Vira in a Furiiru-Vira culture cluster. [72] Both groups are interlacustrine, living between the African Great Lakes. Kifuliiru is the most widely spoken language in Uvira. It is estimated that Fuliiru has 60% lexical similarity with Kinyarwanda; 63% with Kirundi, and 80% with Shi language. More than half of the Uvira population are able to understand it. Many Fuliiru people also speak French, English, Lingala, Portuguese, Tshiluba, and Swahili. [73]


Music is part and parcel of the Bufuliru culture. Bafuliiru music is characterized by a variety of traditional instruments such as the ngoma (drum), xylophone, and flute, which are used to create complex rhythms and melodies. The melodic strains of traditional instrument permeate the air, accompanied by the hypnotic rhythm of indigenous dance, which envelops the senses with its entrancing cadence. [74] The ngoma, in particular, is an essential instrument in Bafuliru music, and it is often played during various social and religious events. Bafuliru music also incorporates a form of call-and-response singing, where one group of singers will lead with a phrase, and another group will respond with a harmonized phrase. This technique creates a rich and layered sound that is both engaging and captivating. The themes of Bafuliru music often center around daily life, social issues, and cultural practices, such as marriage and initiation ceremonies. They also have songs that praise their leaders and ancestors, and these are often performed during political rallies and other communal events. [75] [76] [77] [78] [79] [80]


Fuliiru herdsman in the Mitamba market of Bijombo in the High Plateau, South Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Fuliiru Herdsman.jpg
Fuliiru herdsman in the Mitamba market of Bijombo in the High Plateau, South Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Bafuliiru economy is almost exclusively agriculturally based, although they also own and raise cattle for milk and meat; [81] their homelands in the South Kivu province are some of the most intensively farmed areas of the country. More than 90% of the population makes its livelihood by producing food crops or through industrial work involving the processing of crops. Agriculture contributes more than 19.04% of the nation’s GDP. [82] The most fertile agricultural areas in the country are the mountain regions forming the Congo-Nile watershed and the central plateau, where two crops can normally be harvested each year. Principal food crops include cassava, corn, rice, plantains, and, to a lesser extent, bananas, beans, and peanuts. Principal export crops include coffee, cocoa, and palm oil. Many Bafuliiru people have ventured into business and politics. One of the notable figures in the Congolese government, Justin Bitakwira, is a member of the Bafuliiru community, having served as a former government Minister.


As per the oral tradition of Bafuliiru, cassava originated from Lwindi and was brought by the community during their migration. Today, cassava remains a vital food source for the Bafuliiru population, particularly those residing in the Ruzizi Plain and the Bafuliiru community as a whole. For Bafuliiru, owning a cassava field is considered a treasure trove, and it holds immense value for the community. Apart from its roots, cassava leaves are also edible, and its stems are used for wood. [83] [84]

Cassava's significance goes beyond its nutritional value and practical applications. It plays a critical role in the administration of the community, serving as a source of tax revenue. Shockingly, as much as 80% of all taxes collected are from cassava alone. This tax collection system enables tax collectors to fill the state coffers at both the community and zone levels, which, in turn, are used to support the local markets of the Bafuliiru community. Notably, at the provincial level, there is no need to establish the role of cassava in the Bafuliiru community as its significance is widely recognized. In Uvira, trucks operate three days a week, namely Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, to purchase the high-quality Rubanga cassava from Rubanga, Luvungi, Luberizi, and Ndolera, demonstrating the scale of the community's cassava production and its commercial importance, highlighting its position as a valuable economic asset for the Bafuliiru people.


The banana tree is a versatile crop that thrives in almost all areas of the Bafuliiru community. It holds a significant role in the community's customs and traditions, especially in marriage ceremonies. Specifically, a person intending to marry must present a pitcher of banana juice, known as "I mbindi ya mavuyoKudeterakwo" in Kifuliiru, which means "the jug of juice that enables you to speak." This demonstrates the importance of banana juice in the community, as it is believed that one cannot undertake any strenuous activities without it. Whether it is a wedding ceremony or the end of mourning, the jug of banana juice must be presented to the assembly. Without it, the speaker cannot deliver a valuable message. Thus, banana juice has a significant customary meaning among the Bafuliiru, and it is common to find banana plantations behind each house. Apart from being used in marriage ceremonies, the Bafuliiru also make Kasigisi, an alcoholic drink made from bananas and sorghum, which is preserved for special occasions, highlighting the crop's versatility, as it can be used for both practical and cultural purposes. [85] [86] [87]

The banana tree also holds ritual significance in the Bafuliiru community during childbirth. It is believed that the umbilical cord of certain children was buried near the banana plantation, marking its importance as a symbol of fertility and growth.


The rice grown in the Bufuliiru community belongs to the genus Oryza and Ozyresatira species. Its different varieties are IR5, L9, and IRON 282. Rice is more a source of income than food for the Bafuliiru at the CEP Kabwe, Kaliri, and at the Community Development Center (CDC) base in Kiringye. For the Bafuliiru, rice is a cultural export. Therefore, it is not consumed much, although it is produced sufficiently.


Beans are a prominent crop in the Bafuliiru community, cultivated in the central region of Lemera, stretching from Rubanga to Mulenge. This crop thrives in the temperate climate of high altitudes. Although beans are also exported like rice, they are sold at a lower price because the Bafuliiru are not accustomed to consuming them as a staple food. To accompany a bean meal, it is customary to have cassava bugali on the side. The beans produced in the Bafuliiru community are marketed in Bukavu and Uvira, while a significant quantity is exported to neighboring countries such as Burundi and Rwanda.

Despite being a major crop, both beans and rice are not consumed widely among the Bafuliiru community. They serve as secondary food, with cassava being the staple food. This is due to the fact that cassava is more versatile, with its leaves and stems also being edible and useful for other purposes, such as wood, making it a more valuable crop.


Corn is a widely cultivated crop throughout the Bafuliiru community. It is primarily grown in the Ruzizi Plain, particularly in Luvungi, and in the Hauts Plateaux, where it serves as the staple food. Although many inhabitants of the Hauts Plateaux consume it, some Bafuliiru agriculturalists do not prefer corn. This could be because it is less versatile compared to other crops like cassava, which has multiple uses beyond consumption.

Corn has a long history in the Bafuliiru community, dating back to their migration from Lwindi. The crop has since become a fundamental component of their traditional cuisine and customs. For instance, roasted corn is often served during important community gatherings and celebrations. Additionally, corn is also used as an offering in traditional rituals to the ancestors.


Peanuts are primarily cultivated in the Bafuliru community's Luvungi and Lubarika regions, but they can also be found in Lemera and Rubanga. Groundnuts from Bafuliiru are not only a local delicacy but are also exported to neighboring countries such as Rwanda and Burundi, providing a valuable source of income for local farmers. In addition to their nutritional value, peanuts are also used in various traditional dishes, such as a sauce for cassava bugali or as an ingredient in a stew.

Peanut farming in the Bafuliru community is often a labor-intensive process that involves a considerable amount of manual labor, such as digging and weeding. Despite this, the crop remains an essential part of the community's agricultural industry and plays a significant role in local commerce. Furthermore, the Bafuliiru people have also incorporated peanuts into their cultural practices, such as using them as offerings during traditional ceremonies and rituals.


It requires a temperature varying from 22° to 27°C over an altitude of 500 to 800m. Two species of coffee exist in the Bafuliiru community: Coffea arabica and robusta coffee. The arabica species is the most common in the community. It is a culture of exporting coffee to Burundi.


Traditional Fuliiru houses are huts made from wood, reeds, and straw and are shaped like beehives. High hedges serve as fences. In recent years, modern houses have been built with modern materials.

Commercial trade

Fuliiru crafts include pottery, woodwork, jewelry, metal work, and basket weaving. [88] [89]

Sexual division of production

The main priorities of women are childbearing, childcare, and housework. However, in many rural areas, women also work in agriculture through planting because their fertility is believed to be transferred to the seeds. Women are never seen holding high, respected positions, and men handle most of the production of goods.

Religious belief

Today, the majority of the Bafuliiru people living in the Democratic Republic of Congo practice Christianity. However, many traditional beliefs and customs continue to be an important part of their cultural identity. In their traditional beliefs, the Bafuliiru believe in a Supreme Being and a distant Creator God known as Rurema, who is considered to be the creator of everything on Earth. Rurema is seen as an invisible and elusive presence in the sky, and on earth, he is represented by priests who are considered to be mediators between the people and the divine. Among the Bafuliiru, the most important priests who represent Rurema are Mushabo, Budisi, and Mugajalugulu. These priests play a crucial role in the community, as they are believed to have the ability to communicate with Rurema and provide guidance to the people. They are consulted on various matters, including spiritual, social, and cultural issues, and their opinions are highly respected. The Bafuliiru people also present offerings and sacrifices to the priests, which are believed to help them connect with Rurema and receive his blessings. [90]

Fuliiru couples, Uvira, South Kivu. The wife adorns herself with a traditional dress, a purse hanging on her shoulder, a headdress, earrings, and a wedding ring. The husband wears a white shirt paired with gray pants, along with a wristwatch, a bracelet, a phone, and a wedding ring. Fuliiru Couples.jpg
Fuliiru couples, Uvira, South Kivu. The wife adorns herself with a traditional dress, a purse hanging on her shoulder, a headdress, earrings, and a wedding ring. The husband wears a white shirt paired with gray pants, along with a wristwatch, a bracelet, a phone, and a wedding ring.

Despite the growing influence of Christianity, the traditional beliefs and practices of the Bafuliiru continue to be an essential part of their cultural heritage.


In the past, Fuliiru wore skirts of cloth made from tree bark, and cloaks made of animal hides. These have long been replaced by Western-style clothing. However, handmade beaded necklaces and bracelets are still worn. The woven fabrics, adorned with intricate patterns of vivid hues have honed their craft over generations.

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